New Blog from NIH Extramural Research Chief

Office of Extramural ResearchThe Feedback Loop has gotten attention for its contributions to increasing communication between the scientific community and NIGMS staff. Now, the NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, Sally Rockey, has launched a new blog, called Rock Talk. It will be a forum for discussing NIH funding policies and processes and how they affect the extramural community. These posts will complement the NIH Extramural Nexus, which is more news-oriented. Both the blog and the Nexus offer subscription options.

The blog is off to a lively start with a discussion of NIH’s family-friendly policies. I hope you will check it out.

Comment on Proposed NIH Organizational Changes via New Feedback Site

Feedback NIHNIH recently launched a new site for communication with the scientific community, http://feedback.nih.gov/. The site has already been quite active, since it requests input on a proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and a proposed institute focused on substance use, abuse and addiction research.

Of particular interest may be a recent post on a “straw model” regarding where current National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) programs might end up if they are redistributed as a result of the formation of NCATS. In this model, some NCRR programs would be transferred to NIGMS.

An even more recent post provides information about open conference calls for grantees and others who are interested in NCRR programs to discuss the straw model. These calls will be held today through Friday.

If you have an interest in these rapidly moving activities, the NIH Feedback site is a good place to find updates and to submit your thoughts.

Stepping Down as NIGMS Director

This morning, I announced that I will step down as NIGMS Director at the end of June 2011. I had no intention of leaving NIGMS at this point, but am doing so in support of the career of my wife, Wendie, a leading breast imaging clinical researcher. After a change in her situation in May, we have been looking for a suitable position for her to continue her work on testing new methods for breast cancer screening. She has been actively recruited by a number of institutions around the country, and we have particularly explored options in the Baltimore-Washington area.

After considering all known options, we have decided to accept positions at the University of Pittsburgh. She will be starting in the Department of Radiology at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in March 2011. I will be waiting until the end of June to move in order to complete some important projects at NIGMS and to allow our youngest child to finish her freshman year of high school. I will be serving as the University of Pittsburgh’s Associate Senior Vice Chancellor for Science Strategy and Planning in the Health Sciences and as a faculty member in the School of Medicine’s Department of Computational and Systems Biology.

My time at NIGMS has been one of the highlights of my career. When I joined the Institute more than 7 years ago, I was immediately impressed with the dedication and competence of the staff at all levels. During my tenure, we have been able to recruit a number of outstanding individuals to join this team. So while I am very sad to leave such an outstanding organization, I am confident that it will be in good hands, and I look forward to the new adventures that await me and my family.

Assessing the Outcomes of NIGMS Glue Grants

NIGMS Glue Grants Outcomes Assessment, November 4-December 15In September 2009, we announced that we were not reissuing the funding opportunity announcement for our Large-Scale Collaborative Project Awards (Glue Grant) program, which has supported research teams tackling significant and complex problems that are beyond the means of any one research group. We are currently assessing the need for this type of support and how best to manage programs of such scope and magnitude.

As part of this effort, we are conducting an assessment of the glue grant program’s major outcomes and their impact. We’re seeking your views through voluntary input forms posted on the NIGMS Web site. The forms will ask about various aspects of the glue grant program as a whole and about specific glue grant projects, including:

You can read more about the assessment and view the forms at http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Initiatives/Collaborative/
GlueGrants/OutcomeAssessment
. The site will be open for input until December 15, 2010.

UPDATE: We have extended the comment period from December 15 to January 15.

National Festival Put Science in the Spotlight

Supermodels of ScienceMany kids (and adults) learned more about science and technology at the 2-week-long USA Science & Engineering Festival Exit icon this month in Washington, D.C. The event featured hundreds of activities, including performances, workshops, demonstrations, tours of mobile labs and interactive games. A number of these were hosted by NIH, which was also one of the event sponsors, and most of its components. The festival wrapped up last weekend with a grand finale expo on the National Mall.

On Sunday, I helped host the NIGMS booth, where we presented a computer activity called “Supermodels of Science.” It showed how model organisms—from slimy worms to furry mice—help scientists learn more about human health. The kids were most excited about responding to the quiz questions at the end of each segment. They also were very interested in how scientists use GFP to make organisms glow different colors.

Other NIH activities included a musical performance by NIH Director Francis Collins; the National Human Genome Research Institute’s “Strawberry DNA Extraction,” a hands-on lab experiment where visitors used a soapy mixture to remove DNA from mashed strawberries; and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders’ “It’s a Noisy Planet,” where staff increased the volume on an iPod to demonstrate dangerous noise levels.

The festival’s turnout was excellent—about 500,000 people attended the weekend event. The kids were excited about science and eager to learn, and the volunteer staff members were thrilled to teach them about the research we support.

We’ll post the “Supermodels of Science” activity on the NIGMS Web site soon, and you’re welcome to use it in your own educational outreach efforts.

Nation’s Top Science Honor to Benkovic, Lindquist, Others

Last week, President Obama announced the 2010 recipients of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation Exit icon. The 10 winners of the National Medal of Science include long-time NIGMS grantees Steve Benkovic from Pennsylvania State University and Susan Lindquist from the Whitehead Institute, MIT. As always, I am pleased when our grantees are among the outstanding scientists and innovators recognized by the President in this significant way.

Nobel News

Purdue University Nobel Prize for Chemistry News Conference

(Download the free Windows Media Player Exit icon to view)

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced today that long-time NIGMS grantee Ei-ichi Negishi from Purdue University will share the Nobel Prize in chemistry with Richard Heck from the University of Delaware and Akiri Suzuki from Hokkaido University in Japan for “palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis.” All of us at NIGMS congratulate them on this outstanding recognition of their accomplishments.

Carbon-carbon bond-forming reactions are the cornerstone of organic synthesis, and the reactions developed by these Nobelists are widely used to produce a range of substances, from medicines and other biologically active compounds to plastics and electronic components. NIGMS supports a substantial portfolio of grants directed toward the development of new synthetic methods precisely because of the large impact these methods can have.

I have personal experience with similar methods. I am a synthetic inorganic chemist by training, and a key step during my Ph.D. training was getting a carbon-carbon bond-forming reaction to work (using a reaction not directly related to today’s Nobel Prize announcement). I spent many months trying various reaction schemes, and my eventual success was really the “transition state” for my Ph.D. thesis: Within a month of getting this reaction to work, it was clear that I would be Dr. Berg sooner rather than later!

I’d also like to note that this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine to Robert Edwards “for the development of in vitro fertilization” also appears to have an NIGMS connection. Roger Donahue sent me a paper he coauthored with Edwards, Theodore Baramki and Howard Jones titled “Preliminary attempts to fertilize human oocytes matured in vitro.” This paper stemmed from a short fellowship that Edwards did at Johns Hopkins in 1964. Referencing the paper in an account of the development of IVF, Jones notes that, “No fertilization was claimed but, in retrospect looking at some of the photographs published in that journal (referring to the paper above), it is indeed likely that human fertilization was achieved at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the summer of 1964.” The paper cites NIGMS support for this work through grants to Victor McKusick.

In all, NIGMS has supported the prizewinning work of 74 grantees, 36 of whom are Nobel laureates in chemistry.

New NIH Principal Deputy Director

Dr. Lawrence A. TabakNIH Director Francis Collins recently named Larry Tabak as the NIH principal deputy director. Raynard Kington previously held this key position.

Over the years, I have worked closely with Dr. Tabak in many settings, including the Enhancing Peer Review initiative. A biochemist who continues to do research in the field of glycobiology, he is a firm supporter of investigator-initiated research and basic science. He is also a good listener and a creative problem solver.

Dr. Tabak, who has both D.D.S. and Ph.D. degrees, has directed NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research for the past decade. In 2009, Dr. Kington—who had stepped in as acting director of NIH following the departure of Elias Zerhouni—tapped Dr. Tabak to be his acting deputy. Dr. Tabak’s achievements included playing an integral role in NIH Recovery Act activities.

Given the challenging issues that the principal deputy director often works on, Dr. Tabak’s experience—from dentist and bench scientist to scientific administrator—clearly provides him with valuable tools for the job. His experience as an endodontist may be particularly useful in some situations, allowing him to identify and “treat” potentially serious issues.

NIGMS Grantee and Council Member Wins Lemelson-MIT Prize

Congratulations to Carolyn Bertozzi!

We were delighted to learn that this longtime NIGMS grantee, current NIGMS Advisory Council member and former Stetten lecturer has been awarded the Lemelson-MIT Prize Exit icon. The prize honors technological invention and innovation.

Carolyn is a clear leader in chemical biology and glycobiology whose work extends from very basic studies of chemical reactivity through a variety of applications in biology. In addition, she is a committed teacher and mentor.

Please join me in congratulating her for this award in recognition of her many significant contributions.

Opportunity to Comment on Proposed Changes to Financial Conflict of Interest Regulations

One of my activities is representing NIGMS on the NIH Financial Conflict of Interest Panel. This group has put substantial time and effort into updating the financial conflict of interest regulations that apply to NIH grant applicants. The proposed changes to the regulations are reflected in a recently released notice of proposed rulemaking Exit icon that is now open for comment. You may submit comments electronically or by mail as long as they are received by July 20, 2010.

Although responsibility for reporting and managing financial conflicts of interest would remain with the grantee institution, several of the proposed changes would affect individual investigators. For example, investigator disclosure requirements would be expanded to include all significant financial interests related to the investigator’s institutional responsibilities. In addition, the dollar threshold for disclosure of significant financial interests would be $5,000 (it’s currently $10,000), and this amount would apply to both payments and equity interests. Equity interest of any amount in non-publicly traded entities is considered a significant financial interest and would have to be disclosed.

Investigators would also be required to complete financial conflict of interest training before engaging in NIH-funded research and every 2 years thereafter.

I encourage you to look over the proposed rulemaking document as well as to learn how your institution will be implementing the new financial conflict of interest policy.

UPDATE: The comment period on the proposed changes to financial conflict of interest regulations has been extended to August 19. For more details, see the NIH Guide.